Notebook > Sports

A touchdown for Sam

Sports | One football team's most meaningful points were not those scored but those surrendered

Issue: "2010 Election: The Governors," Oct. 23, 2010

Wisconsin high-schooler Sam Kolden has autism. Nevertheless, the senior has practiced and participated with the Menomonie Indians football team since the eighth grade. And on homecoming night last month, his years of dedication culminated in a 66-yard touchdown play that will echo forever in the memories of every spectator in attendance.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Indians leading the game 46-14, Menomonie coach Joe LaBuda hollered over to the opposing side. He had a favor to ask. Would the Superior Spartans, already soundly beaten, be willing to help fulfill the dreams of a developmentally challenged kid? LaBuda wanted Kolden to be able to catch a pass without subsequently being injured. He hoped the Spartans would consider allowing the catch and tackling Kolden gently after the play.

But Spartans coach Bob DeMeyer had a better idea: "I said, 'Let's let him score a touchdown, coach. That's what it's all about.'"

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And so on the ensuing play, Kolden ran into the left flat, hauled in a short pass, and raced 66 yards past the futile tackling attempts of the Spartans players. The touchdown ignited a cheering frenzy throughout the stadium as fans from both sides appreciated a moment far grander than any mere football contest.

Watching from the sidelines, Kolden's father Steve was moved, later calling the gesture one of "character and sportsmanship." The Menomonie players, many of whom have known and played on the same team with Kolden for years, celebrated their friend's achievement. And the Superior players, once downtrodden from suffering their fifth straight loss to start the season, suddenly saw the evening in a whole new light. One Spartan senior called the moment "the highlight of anybody's life."

Returning the gesture of sportsmanship, the Indians took a knee on the point-after-touchdown attempt. And as both teams would have wanted, Menomonie awarded Kolden the game ball.

Winning big

Graeme McDowell is having a good year at the expense of American pride. In June, the Irishman became the first European in 40 years to win the U.S. Open, besting a power-packed field at the iconic Pebble Beach golf course. And early this month, his play over 18 holes in the final match of the Ryder Cup secured victory for Europe over the United States.

But which accomplishment matters more? For McDowell, it's no contest: "I was out there trying to win it for me, for my 11 teammates, for [team captain] Colin [Montgomerie], for Europe, for all those fans out there. It was a different level completely to what Pebble Beach was. That's why this golf tournament is extremely special and will continue to be probably the greatest golf event on the planet."

That feeling is mutual among many of the Ryder Cup participants. Montgomerie, a man who has won 31 times on the European Tour, called Europe's victory this year "the greatest moment of my golfing career." This despite serving only as team captain and never taking a single swing. Conversely, American team captain Corey Pavin was crushed by the defeat, emerging with a tear-stained face to speak with reporters afterward. And Hunter Mahan, who lost the final match to McDowell, choked up repeatedly as he described the day's play.

Such passion is akin to what many athletes in individual sports feel when they don their national colors for competition in the Olympic Games. For decades, the Ryder Cup has provided golf's only such opportunity. No longer come 2016, when the game's best from Europe, the United States, and all the world will experience the weight of representing country at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

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